Having a young boy run up to you and show off his ears isn't exactly something that happens every day, but for Elijah Bell it's certainly deserving.
The 8-year-old from North Cantonm Ohio was born with a genetic defect called bilateral artesia microtia, which prevented his ears from becoming fully developed. Despite having some hearing, Bell needed hearing aids to "transmit sound waves." He also needed speech therapy to help him develop his communication skills.
"He loves them; he's really proud of them and shows his ears off to everyone," Colleen Bell, Elijah's mother, told ABC. "It's strange to people that he's showing off his ears."
The surgery for Bell's new ears was at Children's Hospital in Akron, Ohio, the same place he was treated after being born prematurely.
A team of surgeons used cartilage from his ribs to help form the outer portions of his ear, which — according to his mother — has led to him lifting up his shirt to show people where his ears came from. It took four surgeries over the course of five years, but they finally got it done.
And that's just the beginning of how interesting the surgery was.
Dr. Ananth Murthy, the director of plastic surgery at the Children's Hospital, explained how exactly they executed the complex and rare operation.
After taking the cartilage from his rib cage, they placed it under his skin right around his hairline. Then it was a waiting game, one that required them to let the tissue develop before they "shape the ears by molding cutouts and forming grooves in the tissue."
The goal of the operation was to improve Bell's directional hearing, which is most effected by his defect. That hearing was helped by the hearing aids he had, but still didn't stop him from getting distracted by sounds in the hallway or something like a noisy heater, which has obvious consequences on his learning ability.
Dr. Murthy explained that the team also used a skin graft from his thigh in order to create space between his ears and his head.
"The body naturally wants to smooth everything out as it heals, so we always have to go back a couple of times to help create the natural curves of an ear," Dr. Murthy said in a statement from Akron Children's Hospital. "It is an artistic procedure."
For both Dr. Murthy and Colleen Bell, the hope is Elijah will benefit both socially and physically from the new ears.
"It's going to translate into his friendships with others, how he works with teachers, all those things," Bell said. "It's going to make a really big difference for him."